Better Than: Getting moshed to death at Anthrax at Irving Plaza, I would imagine.
They say you never grow old in rock ‘n’ roll, and last night at Saint Vitus, Raven proved it true.
In all fairness, it’s not like these guys are ancient. (We’re talking mid-50s or so.) But they’ve got albums as old as me, and a guitarist who, 12 years ago, was told he’d never walk again. Now he’s running around onstage again, as metal as they come.
Surprisingly, as the band started setting up at 11:15 p.m., the audience was sparse. Not, at-the-bar-between-bands sparse, but rather, it-feels-like-no-one’s-here sparse. (Was everyone at Anthrax?) Regardless, with the opening song “Take Control”, it became clear that Raven were going to do just that: own the stage and the crowd.
A trio of large English blokes (OK, OK, the drummer’s from Washington, D.C.), Raven are an energetic bunch. Frontman and bass player John Gallagher wore a headset mic, allowing him full mobility while singing and playing. It’s clear that both he and his brother, guitarist Mark Gallagher, are pros accustomed to performing for arena-sized audiences. Everything about their stage antics–from facial expressions to arm gestures to posing with their instruments–is over-the-top, the kind of theatrics that look a bit ridiculous up close but that will engage the back row of a stadium if need be.
And sure enough, by the end of the second song, the audience was cheering and whistling. About 45 minutes into the more than hour-long set, people were pressing forward. A room that had started out barely half-full had acquired many more onlookers, most of whom were fist-pumping and singing along in call-and-response per John Gallagher’s commands.
“This set–as you can guess, here–we’re kind of flyin’ free, makin’ it up as we go along,” Gallagher said, and the band plowed through some of their oldest tunes. Highlights included “All For One,” the title track off the album that turns 30 this year, “Rock Until You Drop”, and “Mind Over Metal”. Amazingly, Gallagher’s falsetto notes were pitch-perfect and piercingly loud, sounding–no joke–exactly like they do on the tracks he recorded decades ago.
It almost seemed as though the band weren’t going to do an encore. They exited the stage; the lights came up; and music began coming through the PA. But, as Mark and drummer Joe Hasselvander took a bathroom break (or whatever it is rockers do when they leave the stage before an encore), John jumped back up there, grabbed his bass, and launched into the sickest bass solo this reviewer’s ever seen. He was solo in every sense of the word: the only person onstage. And he coaxed from that bass notes so high and squealing, you’d think it was a six-stringed guitar. An extended bass solo? Who DOES that? This guy. And he ruled.
Mark and Hasselvander returned for “Break the Chain,” and the show ended somewhere around 1 in the morning–an “athletic rock” effort indeed.
Overheard: “As usual, I’m in charge of the sheep dip.” — John Gallagher
Critical Bias: Love me some NWOBHM. (New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Duh.)
Random Notebook Dump: One of the biggest drum kits ever at Saint Vitus?